For My Husband on His 70th Birthday
Winter Haven, Florida
Week of April 10, 2023
The year was 1953.
A man called Ike was in the White House, while an ambitious young politician named Nixon waited in the wings – the West Wing - for his shot at the Oval Office 16 years later.
The veterans who survived the War to End All Wars put down payments of $500 to buy brand new homes for under ten thousand clams – a shiny Chevrolet just off the lot set them back $1,600.
In 1953, a homemaker budgeted 16 cents for a loaf of bread, 89 cents for a pound of joe. After a home-cooked meal of meat loaf, mashed potatoes, and jello salad, a couple could plunk down 120 pennies for a pair of tickets to the moving pictures where they could forget the war years in air-cooled comfort.
In April of that year, a pretty 29-year-old housewife in Kenmore, New York, gave birth to her fifth child, a ten-pound son. A couple named Lucy and Desi Arnaz had a boy that year, too, just as the Brosnans had Pierce and the Hogans a son later known as “Hulk.”
But the son born to the family at 12 Hardy Court was simply called Mikey.
Mikey's brother and three older sisters accepted him as completely as they loved each other. Their modest home stretched to include a younger sister and brother some years later – the large family packed into a three-bedroom tract house.
There never was much money, but there always was much love.
With seven children to care for, the children’s mother made their father’s salary stretch by sewing her four daughters’ dresses and hand-tailoring her three sons’ suits. The close-knit family’s life revolved around church, neighborhood, and community activities.
Sundays found the family of nine in church both morning and evening. The children couldn’t watch the World of Disney on Sunday nights, but they gathered around their black-and-white set to catch I Love Lucy or the Jackie Gleason Show – sometimes even the Colgate Comedy Hour. A new national magazine named TV Guide was published that year.
Mikey’s life was that of an ordinary middle-class child growing up in the post-war years, but the love and security he experienced at home was anything but ordinary. Decades later, he would marvel that despite having six other children active in all manner of sports and activities, their father never missed one of his games.
When his car would not start one day after work, Mikey's Poppa hitchhiked to the baseball diamond – briefcase in hand – just in time to see his young son score a run. One of Mikey’s strongest memories was hearing his father cheering for him in the stands. No matter how well he performed or whether he won or lost, a voice would rise over the crowd: “Attaboy, Michael Rowe!”
Mike’s relationship to the father he adored was to shape the rest of his life.
He grew up, went away to university, and married his college sweetheart in 1976. Within ten years, Mike was the adoring father of three children of his own - two sons and a daughter. Ten years later, a pair of pre-teen siblings who needed a family and a loving father found both in Mike. When any of those five children had band concerts or dance recitals, talent shows or baseball games, their dad was always there, cheering them on.
Years passed, then decades.
Called to serve God and people as a teenager, Mike became pastor-shepherd to three churches in New England and the Midwest over the course of 40 plus years in full-time ministry. He loved each of those church families with his whole heart.
He knew no other way.
When the search committee of what would become his third and final church in Illinois asked his wife how she would describe her husband, she simply quoted Jesus’ words: He is a man in whom there is no guile. The man who would serve them as pastor she knew to be the same in private as he was in public. He lived his life right-side out.
He knew no other way.
This week, that same man turns 70. His wife of 47 years, his children, and grandchildren would rise up and called him blessed except they know themselves to be the ones who have been blessed.
What can we give you, they asked. What gift is special enough to mark this milestone? New golf clubs? Gardening tools? Tickets to a major league game?
But instead, their husband, father, and grandfather thought only of what he could do for them. He booked bungalows and arranged for theme park tickets, gathered his family flock and drove them to Florida for three days of watching the little ones and their parents enjoy themselves.
This very week, that’s where they are.
There’s nothing that matters more, he said, than to have my family together. To see them playing together, loving God and each other, caring for one another.
It’s what shepherds do.
Michael Alan Rowe, 70, knows no other way.
- Maggie Wallem Rowe
Maggie Wallem Rowe is in Florida this week, but usually writes from her home in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains of western North Carolina. The author of two books, she is the grateful wife of a great man.